Fracking in Ohio since 2011 has been centered on southeastern and southcentral Ohio communities. Ninety-five percent of the fracking in Ohio so far has centered on seven counties: Belmont, Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe, Noble and Guernsey.
But despite oil and gas industry claims that lots of good-paying jobs would be created in areas to be fracked, a decade later we know that these counties experienced a net job loss of more than 8 percent and a population loss of more than three percent.
Many of those communities are rural, older and poor.
State law H.B. 507, which went into effect in April 2023, kick-started the process for the state to allow fracking around our public lands, including our 75 state parks. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is tasked with deciding on oil and gas leases for Big Oil fracking in what has been called an illegitimate giveaway of Ohio’s natural resources and mineral rights.
Ohioans may not fully comprehend the health, environmental and climate change effects fracking has in and near their communities, but essays on those topics are addressed in the Issues area of our website. Much less has been recently published on the impact fracking has on the social fabric of our local communities.
An estimated 18 million Americans live within a mile of active oil and gas fracked wells, the range in which health and the environment negatively affected. Eyeballing Ohio, a FracTracker Alliance map identifying the location of Ohio’s oil wells indicates about half of our population, or around 5 million people, live within a mile of a fracked oil well.
Now that Ohio has a decade of fracking under its belt, the unexpected social impacts of fracking have come to light. Many of these issues oil and gas companies and state and federal lawmakers have virtually ignored.
Ohio lawmakers trample our rights
In 2011, Ohio lawmakers passed H.B. 133, which created the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to oversee leasing of public land for oil and gas extraction.
In 2012, protests occurred throughout Ohio about fracking in general, as well as on public lands. The state of Ohio and Ohio Supreme Court responded by assigning control of oil and gas operations to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which the General Assembly controls.
This law took away communities’ rights to exert local control over their air, water and soil.
The effect of this power grab is that community challenges to fracking overall have been largely unsuccessful. This causes people extreme stress and anger that government tramples on their basic civil rights and refuses to listen to their concerns.
While some communities gain a sense of closeness from experiences over a common cause, this is not the case in Athens, Ohio and three other Ohio communities regarding fracking. Athens residents have fought Big Oil for at least 10 years, and in 2014, 78 percent of voters in the city of Athens passed a fracking ban. The issue has divided the city and rural surrounding area since then, as some landowners want the money oil and gas companies give them to frack their land, while a majority are deeply concerned about fracking’s long-term effects.
A timeline of Ohio’s history of fracking appears on this website.
Last year, environmental groups in areas affected by fracking in Ohio asked the federal government to revoke the state’s power allowing it to regulate oil and gas on the basis that Ohio did not obey the tenets of the Clean Water Act. A decision on that petition is pending.
Illness, anxiety, grief
As unforeseen environmental changes occur and the health of the land begins to show distress and impact, locals are often struck with a sense of “solastalgia,” or longing for one’s former home, situation, and landscape. They experience guilt and grief regarding the state of land they feel attached to and responsible for stewarding for themselves, their children and grandchildren.
Life-changing decisions such as whether to leave the community, attempt to sell undesirable homes as real estate values drop, or whether or not to have children increases anxiety. A four-part series of stories from Environmental Health News called “Fractured,” focuses on the effects of fracking on five families in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Worthingtons in Part 2 reported that fracking divided their community between those who earned money from mineral leases and those whose health was compromised by illness.
The series tested five, nonsmoking families with children who lived within one mile of a fracked well. They all tested for high levels of toxic chemicals — including benzene, a cancer-causing chemical — in their air, water and bodies. A Worthington grandchild, who was often sick, tested with biomarkers at levels exceeding cancer-causing levels in the average adult cigarette smoker. The series drew local, national and international media attention.
Yet despite media attention, Pennsylvania lawmakers have done little to protect citizens from fracking. In fact, Ohioans can look to Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado for a glimpse of the health, political, and environmental issues that await us.
Recent studies about how fracking divides communities are a Denton, Texas, study on “Socio-Psychological Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Community Health and Well-Being.” The community banned fracking in 2015, but the Texas governor signed legislation that prohibits cities and towns in Texas from banning fracking.
The study suggested that “with fracking often comes feelings of powerlessness, intimidation, exploitation, and a general feeling of corruption in those who are community leaders. Having hydraulic fracturing present in a community has an effect on community members’ perceived quality of life, which is a result of the stress and extreme emotional pressure that fracking can induce.”
The authors’ conclusion: The conflict between pro- and anti-frackers resulted in a polarized community.
Sociologist Stephanie Malin studied Colorado families affected by fracking for three years. Her data indicated that respondents’ “experiences of uncertainty and powerlessness, particularly regarding exposure to potential environmental and public health risks, helped create chronic stress.
Local businesses are displaced
One of the arguments the oil and gas industry used a decade ago to persuade landowners to allow them to frack their land was that fracking would jump-start local economies and bring in good-paying jobs. Ten years on, we know few long-term, high-paying jobs have been created.
Here’s a common scenario of an area to be fracked: A sudden influx of new businesses owned by non-locals may be set up to supply an influx of skilled pipeline workers, who take the majority of jobs. These businesses may include drive-throughs, bars, gas stations, dollar stores, smoke shops, hotels, motels, and fast-food restaurants.
While businesses that sell alcohol, tobacco, and food in wrappers prosper, hotels and motels are sometimes left empty for enterprising rural folk that set up boarding houses and backyard campgrounds in an effort to make ends meet.
Fracking increases the number of transient and temporary workers, who often commit more crime and criminal activity, too. With fracking came an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases in small communities located in the Marcellus Shale region of Ohio.
Solutions for fractured communities
We need to elect ethical state legislators who will put public service over career-building and the needs of Ohioans over political party platforms.
We need to empower our local communities to determine their own energy, health and environmental futures by passing legislation that acknowledges and incorporates the dominance of home rule planning and zoning law in our counties, cities and townships. These laws could include limits or bans against the development of oil and gas exploration and development.
We need to protect our Ohio state parks, forests, wildlife areas, and other public lands. A study by Ohio State University found that each year in Ohio, Ohioans take 171 million outdoor recreational trips, employing 132,790 workers in the outdoor recreation industry, and adding $8.1 billion to our state’s economy.
The moral of the story? Preserving our parks generates much more income for Ohioans than fracking them ever could.
The frack boom won’t last forever, but the negative effects it has on Ohioans and our environment will last for generations.
One final note: the capacity for green energy sources like wind and solar will outstrip coal and oil by 2024 as the price of oil continues to drop because more people are turning to sustainable energy sources. Here’s a question for our state legislators: Why desecrate our state parks and public lands for generations, imperil our health, divide our communities and risk our clean air, drinking water and soil for a few years of fossil fuel revenue?
Ohio, with its beautiful rivers, creeks, forests, its birding areas and unspoiled forests and wildlife areas, provides all visitors with a sense of restorative calm and allows us to reconnect with the natural world we live in. Either the federal government or state of Ohio must protect our air, water and soil as well as our health and the climate for future generations. Government needs to do the right thing for Ohio’s communities by stopping fracking in and under Ohio state parks and public lands.